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The United States’ leading development agency plans to expand its mission in Burma, USAID chief Gayle Smith told reporters in Rangoon on Tuesday, emphasizing the “enormous potential” of sustainable agriculture as a driver of economic growth.
Smith, who formerly served as assistant to the president and program director at the US National Security Council, wound down her first visit to the country with “both great confidence and great hope” for positive change in Burma’s rural communities.
“In many ways the potential was tangible, it was real and meaningful, and one gets a sense that with our continued support and partnership we can see real and meaningful change for small-holder farmers in this country,” Smith said.
After field visits to observe pilot projects aimed at improving agricultural technologies, Smith met with senior members of the government including the ministers for agriculture, commerce and planning and finance.
“We talked about the vision of the government from a policy and planning perspective… and the tangible things that we might do together, again, to take this notion of increased production and well-being from small-holder farmers, all the way through to a vision of how does this country generate the revenues it needs to fuel development in really meaningful and robust ways,” she said of her earlier meetings with officials in the capital Naypyidaw.
The agency’s agricultural projects in Burma, which already include upgrading seeds and streamlining fertilization processes, have so far proven successful, Smith said, though farmers expressed a need for more access to finance and longer loan repayment periods.
The official did not unveil any new assistance packages or project timelines, but reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to assist Burma’s development needs — which she described as “enormous in every sector” — and urged patience with the government’s implementation of reforms.
USAID began working in Burma in 1950, but its mission was shuttered following a 1962 military coup. The United States continued limited support to Burma throughout the decades of military rule that followed, but only re-established its in-country presence in 2012.
The mission’s current objectives in Burma are strengthening democratic governance, supporting peace and reconciliation, assisting inclusive economic growth and improving health.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the US government provided US$96.7 million in aid to Burma through its embassy in the country. Most of this was provided by USAID, which also provided an additional $18 million to support the electoral process and a total of $4.5 million in emergency relief for victims of flooding and landslides last year.